Top: Nilo Cruz, Jimmy López and Kevin Newberry at the July 11 Bel Canto workshop at Civic Opera House (photo by Andrew Cioffi); Bottom: A view of the July 11 Bel Canto workshop featuring Ryan Opera Center artists at Civic Opera House (photo by Todd Rosenberg).

Composer Jimmy López and librettist Nilo Cruz heard their music and words come to life recently when members of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago sang through portions of the new Lyric commission Bel Canto backstage at the Civic Opera House on Friday, July 11. Sir Andrew Davis conducted the workshop, with pianists Maureen Zoltek and Craig Terry accompanying 11 singers performing multiple roles.

The new opera Bel Canto, by composer Jimmy López, with libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, is based on the best-selling novel by Ann Patchett. Sir Andrew Davis  is conductor and Kevin Newbury is stage director for the new production. Curated by Renée Fleming, Lyric’s creative consultant, Bel Canto is the seventh world-premiere opera that Lyric has commissioned for its mainstage since 1961. It will enjoy a lavish opening in December 2015, as part of Lyric’s 2015-16 season.

“It was thrilling to spend time with Jimmy López, Nilo Cruz, Kevin Newbury, and Sir Andrew Davis, going through Bel Canto and hearing the parts of the piece that have already been written,” says Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director. “The premiere is still 18 months away and there is still a great deal of work to be done, but it is already clear that Jimmy's haunting, moving, and compelling music and Nilo's beautiful, poetic and gripping libretto will result in a thrillingly operatic reinvention of Ann Patchett's brilliant novel.”

The singers navigated several languages during the workshop, including English, Spanish, Japanese, German, French, Russian, and Quechua. For the workshop, Ryan Opera Center members, including Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, J’nai Bridges, Jonathan Johnson and Bradley Smoak sang multiple roles. In the actual performances, all roles will be individually cast with a full chorus.  Central to the story is the fictional famed American soprano Roxane Coss, who will be portrayed by Australian-born American soprano Danielle de Niese.

Lyric Opera expects to announce additional casting and the design team for the world premiere production at later dates. For more information about the world premiere performance or Lyric Opera's 2014-2015 season, visit

New Lyric Opera Commission Gets First Workshop at Civic Opera House